from the ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain dept
With his ally commissioners waffling on the original plan, FCC boss Tom Wheeler was forced to offer up a new watered down proposal (pdf). Under the new plan, cable operators would have two years to develop apps that let all cable customers access content (small cable ops are exempt) on the streaming hardware of their choice. In an editorial defending the plan being circulated to numerous websites, Wheeler makes it abundantly clear that cable providers can use any standard of their choice to develop the app, and have control of their content from end to end:
"While our primary focus during this proceeding was to promote consumer choice and fulfill our congressional mandate, we recognize that protecting the legitimate copyright interests of content creators is also key to serving the public interest. To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy."Except the copyright concerns weren't legitimate, because cable box competition has nothing to do with copyright. The cable industry's opposition to real cable box competition is driven by two simple things: a desire to retain control as users flee legacy TV (or more accurately the illusion of control), and a desire to protect $20 billion in annual revenue from cable box rental fees. But the sector obviously can't just come out and say this, so instead they've hidden their motivation behind a litany of hyperbole and bloviation.
Amusingly, it was the cable industry that originally approached an "app based" alternative to Wheeler's initial plan (the flaws in which we've previously dissected here). Yet it didn't take Comcast long to circulate a statement to various press outlets stating that it didn't like this new proposal, either:
"While we appreciate that Chairman Wheeler has abandoned his discredited proposal to break apart cable and satellite services, his latest tortured approach is equally flawed. He claims that his new proposal builds on the marketplace success of apps, but in reality, it would stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space.By "discredited" proposal, Comcast means that it paid an ocean of think tankers, academics, lobbyists, consultants and others to lambaste the plan at every conceivable opportunity (with news outlets rarely disclosing the financial ties). And by "fast moving technological space" Comcast means a sector historically known for doing everything in its power to not only cripple consumer choice, but punish consumers for seeking out better alternatives to legacy TV. And again, the FCC effectively gave the cable sector the app-based approach its own lobbyists pushed for, and Comcast's still not happy:
"It perpetuates many of the concerns that led hundreds of Members of Congress, content creators, diversity and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and over 300,000 individuals to object to his original flawed approach, including problems with privacy, copyright protection, content security, and innovation. Heavy-handed government technology mandates have a long history of failure. The Chairman’s approach would likely meet the same fate, while causing real damage to the thriving apps marketplace and real harm to consumers."Again, it's wise of Comcast to avoid mentioning that Comcast paid for, either overtly or covertly, the lion's share of opposition to the FCC's plan. It's also probably smart of Comcast to avoid mentioning that the FCC's counter proposal is almost exactly what cable industry lobbyists asked for. The FCC says it will vote (again) on its cable box proposal at its meeting on September 29, meaning the next few weeks you'll see a barrage of new editorials trying to claim that cable box competition will hurt the children, frighten puppies, and almost certainly rip a giant hole in the time-space continuum.